If I said “St. Mungo,” most of you would probably jump right into Harry Potter mode. As it turns out, there is an actual St. Mungo, and his origins predate Harry Potter by a few centuries.
Kentigern was born in the Kingdom of Fife in Scotland. The resident holy man, Saint Serf, helped his mother – who was a single mother cast off by her family – to raise him, and gave him a cutesy little nickname: mo choe, meaning dear one. Kentigern later became very popular in Wales, and the Scots Gaelic pet name was translated into the Welsh language: fy nghu (don’t even ask me how to pronounce that). It’s from the Welsh that Kentigern got his popular name, which he has come to be known by: Mungo.
Mungo did an awful lot of what we would now call missionary work in the Kingdom of Strathclyde. Most of his work was done in and around a small fishing town that has come to be called Glasgow. His work there made him so popular that he is the patron saint of the city (as it has since become), and the cathedral of the city sits on the site of a monastery founded by Mungo himself. His remains are entombed in the crypt of the cathedral.
There’s evidence that a church has been on the site since Mungo’s day, but it’s unclear when the monastery changed its function and became a church. We do know that in the 12th century, Glasgow was granted a bishop by the Catholic Church, and this particular church was his seat, making it a cathedral. The church remained a cathedral until the Reformation, which the Catholic Church was ousted from the Scottish lowlands in favor of Presbyterianism. While many Catholic churches were destroyed during that time, St. Mungo’s was hardly touched, probably due in part to the locals’ devotion to the saint. Some of the more lavish ‘popish’ decorations were removed, but the church is still generally in the same good shape as it was pre-Reformation. It is now the High Kirk of the Church of Scotland in Glasgow, although people still use the old title of ‘cathedral’ when they talk about it.
In addition to its religious functions, the Glasgow Cathedral has featured in several pop-culture sensations. Perhaps the first was the novel Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott, who earned rockstar status in Scotland for such writings. As mentioned earlier, the hospital for all magical kind in the Harry Potter series was named after the saint and has many of the same properties as the church (despite supposedly looking like a department store to muggles). Most recently, one of the chapels in the church also served as L’Hôpital des Anges in season 2 of Outlander.
Visiting St. Mungo’s Cathedral
Getting there: You can easily walk to St. Mungo’s from downtown Glasgow in 15-20 minutes, or you can use Glasgow’s public transit (bus 38). The hop-on-hop-off bus also makes a stop at the cathedral.
Opening hours: During the summer (April to September), the cathedral is open Monday to Saturday from 9:30 to 5:30 and Sundays from 1:00 to 5:00. During the winter (October to March), the cathedral is open Monday to Saturday from 10:00 to 4:00 and Sundays from 1:00 to 4:00.
Admission: Entry is free to Glasgow Cathedral!